Social and other communication
So we’ve looked at emergency and urgent communication but we still need and want to maintain contact with friends and family. We’ll want to keep them updated on the progress of the trip, they’ll want photographic “evidence” of the sights that you’ve seen You and them will want to just touch base every now and again. Mostly this can be accomplished by phone, mobile or otherwise. You may want to update your blog or web site with text and photos, post to Facebook, Instagram or somewhere else. There’s no urgency associated with this so it’s good enough to wait until you’re somewhere where WiFi or mobile coverage is available. For example you can call a family member and tell them that currently you’re in Innamincka and that you’ll give them a call when you get to Birdsville.
For more local communication with fellow travellers, etc. there’s radio. UHF (Ultra High Frequency), VHF (Very High Frequency) and HF (High Frequency) radio.
Let’s start with UHF. Most people have a 40 or 80 channel unit in the car as well as maybe a hand-held walkie-talkie or two. These devices are really handy – you can talk to fellow road users, you can use them to coordinate overtaking moves with trucks, buses, caravans, etc. UHF radios are type approved by the ACMA and are only allowed five watts of transmitter power and don’t have a requirement for operator licencing. They are, because of the frequency in use, generally only capable of line of sight contact. Yes, UHF radio has some severe limitations but for what they are they’re really, really handy when travelling. These limitations make UHF almost useless in times of dire emergency. You may be able to contact a station owner or a traveller with a sat. phone and summon some help but that’s about all.
VHF is rarely used in remote areas. Sure there are some services available but the licencing required is restrictive. The limitations with VHF put it in the generally useless category. Amateur Radio Operators (HAM’s) have access to some VHF spectrum which may be useful but I wouldn’t rely on it in an emergency.
HF. This is a whole new can of worms. Basically there are two categories of HF radio. Amateur radio, more on that later, or an operators network such as VKS-737 or the Royal Flying Doctor network. The HFRadio FAQ contains a load of information. These organisations require that you pay them an annual licence and usage fee and you’ll also need to buy a radio. Some organisations may require that you undergo some training as well. These services commonly provide chat sessions, emergency communication, simple messaging, etc. By the time you buy the radio, antenna and pay the annual fees this may be an expensive option.
A cheaper option is 27MHz CB radio which is HF. Again, there’s no licencing but transmitter power is restricted. Four watts for AM and 12W for SSB. It can be useful but there are few people in remote areas with 27MHz CB radios. This is the CB of the 70’s and 80’s that most of us can (just) remember.
Amateur Radio. To get access to amateur radio you need to get a licence and for that you need to pass three exams – Regulations, Theory and a practical. You also need to pay an annual fee. In a sudden emergency such as a car roll over with people sustaining injuries or one of the party having a stroke or heart attack I’d suggest that Amateur Radio is not the right tool to be using. I’d recommend that your PLB be activated. Amateur Radio is useful for non urgent messaging, chatting, etc. I am a licenced amateur and only check in to the Australian Travellers Net (daily starting at 0200 UTC with callbacks at 0300UTC on14.116MHz). I also use it for idle chatting with other amateurs.
The last thing about radio is that the Radio Communications Act allows anyone licenced or not to use whatever radio gear is available to provide or assist with emergency, safety of life communications without fear of prosecution.